Blue Trails Boost Local Economies
Guest Blogger: Guy Jones, Owner, River Runner Outdoor Center Columbia, South Carolina
Rivers are an important part of my life. Rivers underpin a successful career, a deep-seeded passion, and even helped introduce me to my wife.
Three decades ago, my hometown river, the Saluda near Columbia, South Carolina, was threatened by a proposed hydroelectric dam. Working with dedicated community leaders, I ran canoe trips on the Saluda in an effort to bring attention the harmful project and to highlight the river as a recreational asset. These efforts not only stopped the dam project in its tracks, they also led to the creation of River Runner Outdoor Center, the first full service outfitter center in Columbia, where I met my wife when she came to buy a kayak.
Since then, I have been living my dream of connecting people to the Saluda, Broad and Congaree rivers through recreation. River recreation is increasing in Columbia and across the country. We’re seeing communities working to improve river recreation and protect their rivers through the creation of Blue Trails. These Blue Trails are rivers adopted by a community dedicated to family-friendly recreation and conservation. And we’re seeing this giving a boost to local economies.
The Congaree River Blue Trail in Columbia is a shining example. This 50 mile trail offers opportunities to experience the area’s rich natural resources and wildlife through boating, fishing and other activities. The highlight of the trail is Congaree National Park, home to the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U.S. It connects urban and rural communities and youth to this treasured landscape.
Since the creation of the Congaree River Blue Trail, I have seen a spike in the number of people enjoying the river through recreation. And enjoyment and protection of the great outdoors is simply downright valuable. In fact, 113 million Americans enjoy fishing, paddling, and trail activities each year. These activities alone generate 1.6 million jobs and more than $20 billion in state and federal revenue. In 2010, the Department of the Interior launched its America’s Great Outdoors initiative, a nationwide search for locally driven and supported recreation and conservation opportunities.
Because of the public demand for projects such as the Congaree River Blue Trail, Interior has promised to support the creation of new Blue Trails by local communities nationwide. It is imperative that this promise be kept so that communities can continue to get a much-needed boost to local economies, healthy lifestyles, and the environment.